This is put up or shut up week in Louisiana politics as qualifying opens for hundreds of state and local offices. In many other states, the big elections coincide with the presidential contest. In Louisiana, we don't want our local contests to overshadow the race for the White House.
Officially, qualifying begins Tuesday morning and closes Thursday afternoon. On the Oct. 24 open primary ballot will be six statewide offices, 144 legislative seats, eight seats on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), and hundreds of local and parochial offices. The statewide offices are governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, insurance commissioner and commissioner of agriculture.
In most parishes outside New Orleans, the local ballot includes races for parish president, council (or police jury), sheriff, clerk of court, assessor and other parochial offices. By the time qualifying closes Thursday afternoon, the Secretary of State's office could be putting together ballots that contain nearly 1,000 candidates.
For hundreds of incumbents seeking re-election, qualifying is the political equivalent of Hell Week. They qualify early and then sweat for the next two-and-a-half days, waiting to see who lines up to oppose them.
But don't cry for incumbents. The deck is pretty much stacked in their favor, starting with the qualifying dates themselves.
Don't cry for incumbents. The deck is pretty much stacked in their favor, starting with the qualifying dates.
Take this year's election schedule, for example. Qualifying for the Oct. 24 primary is barely six weeks before Election Day — and only four weeks before early voting starts on Oct. 10. That leaves precious little time for challengers to mount campaigns. Incumbents also have decided name-recognition and fundraising advantages in most cases.
I've written before that state lawmakers should lengthen the time frame for official campaigning by moving the qualifying dates up several months. Four to six weeks for an entire campaign is a ridiculously short window of time for voters to choose six statewide elected officials, 144 legislators — and lots of local offices. A longer time span between qualifying and Election Day not only would give voters more opportunities to get to know all the candidates (and hopefully make better choices), but likely also would increase voter turnout, which has been falling in recent elections.
In the next few years, qualifying will in fact move up from September to mid-July for autumn elections. Next year, that will allow more than three months of campaigning for congressional seats and the U.S. Senate seat currently held by David Vitter — plus a batch of local races (such as Orleans Parish School Board) — on the Nov. 6, 2016 ballot.
In 2017, the New Orleans mayoral race will be on the fall ballot instead of competing with NFL playoffs and Mardi Gras in February and March 2018 — a wise move for many reasons. In addition, qualifying for the Oct. 14, 2017 open primary will be in mid-July, again allowing for three months of official campaigning.
Hopefully, state lawmakers will allow a similar amount of time for the 2019 statewide elections. That election schedule has not been established — and those who set the dates for it will have the same self-interest at stake as those who gave us this year's truncated campaign season.